What to do when your child throws a public tantrum

Most parents of young children live in terror of their little one losing it in public. It’s hard to avoid feeling judged and ashamed of out-of-control behaviour, as if it is evidence of total incompetence as a parent, surely a result of your indulgence which has inevitably created a spoiled child.

So, what can you do in these moments to reduce the stress both for yourself and your child?

Don’t let the onlookers get to you.

Ideally, just tune them out. Many parents report that they end up giving in to their child in order to get her to behave—to avoid the embarrassment or hassle—even though they don’t think that’s best for their child. But you have nothing to be embarrassed about; and when you give in, your child is cleverly putting two and two together: “Mommy or Daddy will pretty much give me anything to get me to quiet down when we’re anywhere but home!”

Stay calm.

If you are anxious and upset, your child is more likely to be anxious and upset. When she is falling apart, she needs you to be her rock. Best to take a few deep breaths and remind yourself that, if you lose it too, it will likely make the situation at hand more stressful and challenging. (And, for those parents who can’t let go of what others are thinking—you don’t want to give any of those judgy onlookers any ammunition.)

Provide choices that you can implement.

Even when offering the alternative, your child may flat-out reject it and intensify the tantrum to show you just how lame he thinks this other option is. In that case, you calmly say, “You are really upset about not getting what you want. It is my job to keep you safe so I am going to put you in the grocery cart. You will be okay.” You might ask him if he can find and point to his favourite cereal on the shelf. This lets him know you are going to ignore his outburst, but you are not ignoring him, and that you can handle his upset and will be a “safe base” for him.

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